Six Australians are dead after a Lao Airlines ATR72 with 44 passengers and 5 crew, crashed into the Mekong River near Pakse in southern Laos yesterday in bad weather.
The passenger list comprised six Australians, 16 Laotians, seven French nationals, five Thais, three South Koreans, two Vietnamese, one Chinese, one Canadian, one Myanmar national, one person from Taiwan and one American.
This morning the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed there were six Australians on board.
The Australians have been identified as an explosives expert, his father and a family of four, all from NSW.
Relatives of the passengers had been informed of the crash, Lao Airlines added.
The Australian victims were named as Michael Creighton, 41, and his father Gordon, both from Glen Innes in northern NSW. Sydney tax agent Gavin Rhodes, his wife Phoumalaysy and their children Manfred and Jadesuda were also killed.
A DFAT spokesman said the Australian embassy has been told not to expect any survivors.
“We understand there were six Australians listed as boarding a Lao Airlines flight from Vientiane to Pakse that crashed,” the spokesman said. “Australian consular officials are in contact with the families of those thought to be on the flight.
“Lao authorities have told our embassy in Vientiane they do not expect any survivors.”
According to Aviation Herald the ATR72-600 carried the registration RDPL-34233.
The airline’s face book page carried a message of condolences and deepest sympathy to family, friends, colleagues and relatives on Flight QV301.
It said that Flight QV301 left Vientiane at 2.45pm local time and upon preparing to land at 3.55pm ran into extremely bad weather conditions.
“There were no news of survivors at this time,” the airline said. It did not confirm the number of deaths.
It added that “we are doing our best to investigate the cause of the crash and hope to disclose our findings by Thursday October 17”.
The flight was originally scheduled to arrive at 12.15pm but was delayed due to the weather.
The state-run Laos news agency KPL also said everyone on board was believed to have perished, as did a Thai foreign ministry spokesman who had slightly different numbers for those aboard.
“I can now confirm, according to our reports, that all 44 people on board have died, including five Thai,” Thai foreign ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee said.
Tropical storm Nari had been battering the southern and central provinces of Laos at the time of the crash.
Local news agency KPL says eyewitnesses said wild winds had affected the plane.
“It stopped and then it appeared to be blown away by strong winds. Nobody knew where it had gone,” said an unnamed local resident.
“The plane was completely submerged in water.”
A foreign resident of Pakse said in an email message to the Bangkok Post that the scene of the crash was horrendous.
"The Chinese Temple in front of my house has become an emergency centre," he said. "I saw lifeless bodies laying about and other lifeless bodies being brought in, some connected to IV drips.
"It's complete chaos out front, as emergency vehicles grapple with usual traffic on this pot-holed, muddy stretch of road. Hundreds of people are loitering about, some curious, others presumably concerned for their loved ones.
"It's absolute horror."
Lao Airlines was only rated as a four-star airline by www.AirlineRatings.com because it had not completed the important International Air Transport Association perational Safety Audit (IOSA) and the country was below average in the implementation of the ICAO country audit.
Laos is deficient in the areas of oversight of its airline’s airworthiness and operations.
Lao Air has now been downgraded to three-stars because of the tragedy.
The airline has six 74-seat ATR-72 planes, a European built turbo-prop aircraft co-manufactured by Airbus parent EADS and Italian aerospace firm Finmeccanica.
ATR said in a statement that the plane that crashed was its latest ATR 72-600 model. It was relatively brand new leaving the production line in March.
ATR said Lao authorities would lead the investigation into the crash.Lao Airlines operates domestic routes and has international flights to Cambodia, China, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore.